Why Andre Iguodala Is the Sixth Man of the Year


Over the last month of the season, the NBA MVP race was the most dominating discussion among most basketball fans across the country. And when the race is six players deep, who can blame them?

But while that discussion consumed most basketball fans, the race for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award has quietly intensified. This season, though the perpetual candidates like Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili‘s chances of winning have taken a hit due to injuries and declining production respectively, the race between Golden State’s Marreese Speights and Andre Iguodala and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas has been just as close as the MVP race.

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But as the dust settles on another NBA season, one super-sub’s case is far stronger than the rest: Andre Iguodala. His ability to facilitate the offense while anchoring the perimeter defense is important to his 67-win Warriors team and his basketball IQ, willingness to pass and versatility are unmatched by any of his off-the-bench competitors. On a bench that is so deep, they have the luxury to just bench David Lee whenever they feel like it, Iguodala is by far the most important player. And that’s saying something.

In his first 806 games (regular season and playoffs), Andre Iguodala never came off the bench. So one could imagine his surprise when head coach Steve Kerr told him that Harrison Barnes would be starting over him to begin the season. But whatever reservations he had about coming off the bench in the fall have essentially dissipated, and now Iguodala has made himself into one of the most important bench players on the best bench in the NBA. Though most times, a candidates’ worth is measured by counting stats like points, rebounds and assists, Iguodala’s worth comes from the immense experience he brings to unit, his deep understanding of how the game should be played, and his elite perimeter defending.

Apr 4, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) dribbles as Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (20) defends during the first half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Iguodala’s value is well known. Last season, he was a member of the NBA All Defensive Team and this year, his defensive rating of 96.8 was ninth best among all perimeter players in the league. And in the last five minutes of games, that rating improved to a stingy 92.3. But what he brings on the offensive end of the floor has been largely overlooked, and when you’re playing for the best offensive team in the league, that shouldn’t be the case.

On the surface, his averages of 7.8 points per game and 3.3 assists per game aren’t too impressive. But in looking at his career statistics, it’s immediately obvious that Iguodala was never a big scorer. Where his value on offense comes from is his versatility and his basketball IQ, two things that aren’t necessarily quantifiable. But one way to get a glimpse of what he brings to the team in that regard, is by looking at how different lineups perform based on whether or not he’s in them. 82games.com tracks the offensive and defensive performances of the top 20 5-man lineups used by each team, and of the 11 lineups Iguodala is most featured in, 9 of those score more points per possession than the league average. Those lineups consist of Iguodala being surrounded by all types of players, like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to Leandro Barbosa and Justin Holiday. No matter who’s around him, Iguodala makes his teammates better.

The average NBA team scores about 1.00 points per possession. But with Iguodala on the floor, Golden State averages about 1.20 points per possession. Though that difference seems minuscule, over the course of a game that adds up to over 19 more points that Andre Iguodala adds to the offense by being on the floor. Whether it’s making the extra pass, getting into the lane and kicking it out, or just providing excellent floor spacing, whatever Iguodala does, he’s doing it right.

And in comparison to the other Sixth Man of the Year candidates, Iguodala’s plus-minus rating of 440 is significantly higher than both Speights'(180) and Thomas'(69), indicating that his impact on both ends of the floor is much greater than both of theirs combined.

In the Warriors’ offense, Iguodala serves as the jack of all trades. He can get the rebound and push the ball in transition, like he does here:

But he can also help the offense function in the half court, because of his extraordinary court vision and unselfishness. Every team has a “glue guy”, and Iguodala is Golden State’s. Without his presence holding the second unit together, it’s fair to say that their bench wouldn’t have been nearly as dominant as it was this season. When fan’s peruse the box score, Iguodala’s impact isn’t immediately noticed. But the game runs deeper than box scores and statistics. More than any other sport arguably, success in basketball is based on the flow of the game and the rhythm that each individual is in. Iguodala helps make sure that his teammates are doing exactly what they need to be doing, on both offense and defense to succeed.

And that’s invaluable.

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